The client-guide relationship is a special one, or at least it should be. Married for a fixed number of days, trust is a big part of the equation. In most instances, the success of their hunt depends on it. When the chemistry is good, the relationship can be magical. When its not, plenty can go wrong. The guide is responsible to the client, but so too does the client share accountabilities. Over the last 25 years, I’ve seen it all. Allow me to share some of what I’ve learned clients do when the guide’s not looking.
When asked to pen this piece, I laughed. After all, the editor’s at Guidefitter were asking me to ‘out’ my clients. It only took a few seconds though and I agreed. Why? Because at the end of the day, what we’re talking about is human nature – the good, bad, and everything in between.
Indeed, over the last quarter century I’ve guided folks who are unbelievably respectful. They love the hunt and they are true conservationists. But I’ve also learned that there are three types of hunters in this world: those who live, eat, breath, and sleep it – in other words they are hunters to the core and savor every success, failure and challenge that goes with it. There are those who like the ‘idea’ of hunting, but really don’t care for the discomforts and challenges integral to it. And finally, there are those who clearly don’t care for the hunt at all – they’re only in it for trophy, and it matters not how they get it – they crave the bragging rights alone.
By in large, conservationist hunters listen and hunt well. Incidentally, they are always the most successful. Rarely have I ever had a problem with any of these folks. The latter two, however, are a whole different story. What many of them do when the guide isn’t looking, ranges from utterly comical to downright disrespectful.
Hey, I get it. We all work hard, and outfitted hunts are an opportunity to be pampered. In the end, it’s the client’s hunt. They’re paying the bill and, to at least some extent, they should be able to decide if and when they get a little shut eye. I can tell you, however, that any guide and outfitter worth his or her salt takes their job seriously and this means capitalizing on every waking minute to seal the deal in providing their client with a shot opportunity. The operative word here is ‘waking’. I can’t count the number of times I’ve discovered, or heard of, clients falling asleep on stand.
I once found a client sleeping at the base of his tree with his head propped up on a log. He had missed his scheduled radio check-in time. Our protocol is to try to reach them again in 10 minutes. If that doesn’t work, we walk in to their stand site and check on them. So, I did just that. Glassing up in the tree, the client’s pack and bow were up there, but he was nowhere to be seen! Fearing the worst, I carefully moved in and eventually glimpsed a body on the ground. It looked a bit contorted and I immediately thought the worst. As I approached however, it became clear that he was merely sleeping. Standing 10 yards away, I waited. Eventually, he looked up from under the brim of his hat. When asked what he was doing, the most authoritative voice he could muster, he declared, “why, I’m resting up for the big push!” Needless to say, it took all I had to suppress my laughter.
The whole phone issue is a big one. Cell phones can be a great asset for communicating with clients by text while they’re on stand or in a blind. The problem comes when our guests are addicted to them. Some folks can’t stop text messaging, perusing social media, or even worse – making calls while they’re supposed to be watching for animals!
Seems logical to a guide, but for some reason it frequently fails to compute with clients. If their head is down and concentrating on their phone, they invariably miss the, sometimes fleeting shot opportunities. Its one thing to miss seeing animals, but the cell phone thing really gets a guide’s blood boiling. I’ve actually heard clients talking on the phone while on stand from long distances away. It’s one thing to sabotage their own hunt by talking loudly on stand, but its quite another to educate the game and literally ruin stand or blind locations for future hunters. This shows little respect for the operator or the guide, let alone other guests.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve either found hunters walking around in the woods or learned that they were out of their stand or blind when they should have been hunting. In our jurisdiction and many others, by law, a guide MUST accompany a hunter unless they are stationary, i.e. on stand or in a blind. Unfortunately, and all-to-often, despite instruction to the contrary, clients feel that they need to go for a walk, if not to stretch their legs then to ‘learn the area’. What clients don’t understand is the liability attached to doing this. Guide’s are responsible, not only for the quality of their client’s hunt, but also for their safety. They must know precisely where their client is at all times. Furthermore, and especially with deer hunts, by walking around, clients are laying down human scent wherever they walk. This is another sure-fire way to sabotage their hunt and diminish odds for success. Most guides and outfitters invest a great deal of time staging their hunts. This involves year-round effort and uncooperative clients can literally wipe out all of their work in a single blow by disregarding their simple instruction to sit still and hunt.
Most clients are well-behaved when their guide is present, but when they’re not around, its unbelievable how many are willing to litter. I can’t count the number of times I’ve come across client’s trash at the base of the tree they were sitting in. Near as I can tell, they must think that because the guide is usually taking them into the stand under the cover of darkness and extracting them under the same conditions, we won’t notice. Really, there’s no other logical explanation. Whether its shear apathy, or utter disregard, many seem more than willing to discard their tissues, toilet paper, candy bar wrappers and chemical heat packs by simply tossing them off the side of the stand. Not sure whether they think it’s the guide’s job to clean up after them, but counter to the instruction we give them at the beginning of each hunt, the litter mess we discover after they go home is often overwhelming. It literally makes us wonder how their spouses handle them at home?
Sadly, I’ve even had a client shoot a deer and not tell their guide, or me, as the outfitter. I had this happen once in my early years of outfitting. I couldn’t figure out why the client was so bent on having us move him to a different stand location after only hunting it for a couple hours. It was a great spot and the deer were moving through the funnel consistently. I eventually obliged, instructing his guide to accommodate the request. Unfortunately, on route to the airport after his hunt, one of the other hunters disclosed that that particular client had actually taken a shot the first hour of his hunt. We immediately did a grid search of the area and found a dead buck – by that time spoiled. Recall my initial comment on trust? This was a classic example of when and how that relationship broke down. Guides and outfitters rely on information. Without it, we simply can’t do our jobs.
In conclusion, I’ll leave you with this little nugget. When you’re in the customer service business – and make no mistake – that’s what outfitting and guiding is, its all about managing people. Some like to second guess the guide’s decisions, discussing strategy at length with other hunters when he or she isn’t around, often questioning whether or not the guide is making the right moves. Rest assured, every guide and outfitter knows this goes on. To some extent its human nature to question when things aren’t going the way we plan, but the best advice I can offer is to simply follow suit. Remember, you’re a visitor. If the guide and outfitter are good, they know what they’re doing. You may question their choices, but if you tow the line, more often than not, things will usually go well for you. Work on developing a relationship of trust and respect with your guide and chances are you’ll go home with positive memories that will last a lifetime.